A Visit to the V & A’s Ball Gown Exhibit

A few days ago, shortly after our visit to Buckingham Palace, I made my way through the rainy streets of London to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had a ticket to see their exhibit Ball Gowns: British Glamour Since 1950, which runs until January 6, 2013. The museum’s website has all of the info on the exhibit here, but if you’re not able to go yourself hopefully this post will do!

Here’s a look at the entrance, which has quite an eye catching installation at present, doesn’t it? There was a short reprieve from the rain when I took this:

Since I arrived just after the museum opened at at ten in the morning, I had the exhibit mostly to myself and really had a chance to take my time and get a good look at everything. The exhibit is spaced out over two floors; the first floor has ball gowns from the 1950’s to the 1990’s and the upper floor has a selection of more recent gowns, up until this year.

On that first floor, there are gowns from a variety of designers including Catherine Walker, Jacques Azagury, Victor Edelstein, and Zandra Rhodes.
The ‘Elvis Dress’ by Catherine Walker, 1989
Naturally, the first dress that really caught my eye was this one, the famous “Elvis” dress that Catherine Walker designed for Diana’s trip to Hong Kong in 1989:
As with all the dresses included, it is beautifully presented. Tthe case it is displayed in is decorated with oversized photographic prints of both jewels and wall art that are in the museum’s collection. Clever, eh?? That gorgeous panelling you can see  is from the music room in Norfolk House, which was reconstructed for display in the British Galleries.
Here’s a photograph of the Music Room as it looks now so you can see what I mean. Love that!
My only wish was that there was a mirror in the back of the display case so that we’d be able to get a good look at the back of Diana’s dress. Oh, well.
The Queen Mother’s Dress by Norman Hartnell, 1953
A mirror was used in the display case where this gown by Norman Hartnell is displayed. This gown dates to 1953 and is made of silk satin with beaded embroidery:
As we discussed in our post on Norman Hartnell (click here to read it if that’s strikes your fancy), he designed numerous gowns and day dresses for the Queen Mum over the years. This dress was really only one of many.
The delightful plaque which accompanies this gown explains how Queen Elizabeth’s husband King George VI requested that Hartnell design gowns similiar to the ones Queen Victoria wore in the portraits that Franz Xaver Winterhalter painted of her.
Here is one such portrait, which shows the Queen in a somewhat similar dress:
I’m sorry that the fuzzyness of the photo doesn’t quite do it justice! I took it with my phone, so what can you do. The ornate beading and detail is really quite exquisite, and you can see how the corsetry in contrast with the crinolines under the skirt would have emphasized Queen Elizabeth’s waist.
Princess Anne’s Bellville Sassoon
The final gown with a royal wearer is this cheerful silk number which was given to the V&A by Princess Anne. Interesting that what with her popping out in outfits that she wore thirty plus years ago she didn’t choose to keep this one! That Anne is thrifty…
I can totally see her in this gown with a beehive ‘do and a tiara but alas I can’t track down an actual picture of her in it!
On another part of that main floor, there is a black and white video playing on a continuous loop that shows the Queen Mum and Princess Margaret attending a fashion show. Another video is of a Norman Hartnell fashion show which took place at Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey)! They are both short and sweet retro videos, and can be watched on the V&A website here. Just scroll down a bit, and you’ll see ’em!
The more recent gowns….
Once you’ve had a good, long look at all the gowns on the first floor, it’s time to head upstairs to see the more recent gowns.  The designers included upstairs include Jenny Packham, Rocsanda Illincisc, and of course Alexander McQueen.
Fest your eyes on these beauties:
And another one for good measure:
Delightful! And, once you’re finished with this exhibit, the Fashion Gallery is just outside. It recently re-opened after a renovation and is filled with treasures. I’ll leave you with this final picture so you can see what I mean:
Next up: a visit to Kensington Palace and High Tea at the Cadogan Hotel…



Categories: British Royal Family, Diana, Princess of Wales, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Tags: , ,

3 replies

  1. The pic you share of the Music Room in Norfolk House immediately reminded me of a portrait which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery (London) – Princess Diana’s first official portrait by Bryan Organ from 1981. She sits sideways in a chair dressed in a simple black and white pants, blouse and vest outfit but the backdrop behind her is very striking (and similiar in style) to the picture you feature in today’s post.

  2. It must have been THRILLING to walk amoungst all those fabulous dresses, some designed years ago (by Diana’s favorite designers) and others more current (those favored by Catherine)!! I must admit to not quite understanding some of the newer styles – a little too far fetched for me… If I could visit this exhibit, it would be the classics that command my attention…
    Although I live a short train ride outside of New York City, I am jealous of your London address and access to all of these royal exhibits!! Your post is the next best thing to being there…


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